for Mike Thornton and Gregg Painter
After waiting for lawn service that never came Friday afternoon, Phil and I decided to stay in, stream something on Netflix. I was draining pasta when there was a knock at the door.
Assuming it was the tardy lawn service, Phil yelled, “oh, hell no!”
I found a tall guy parking his bike on my porch, opened the door and asked, “Do you want some spaghetti?”
“No, just a glass of wine,” he replied.
“Shit, it’s Thornton,” Phil exclaimed. “We don’t have any wine. Would you settle for whiskey?”
“We’re eating,” I informed our random guest while filling a third plate, “so you’re having some.”
Soon we sat down to chicken meatballs in butternut squash sauce. The men had their Jameson’s neat with water backs. I’d as soon drink peroxide and there was no wine. I had water.
After mumbling about how we used to drop in on friends but no one does that anymore, Thornton observed, “this is working out very well.”
As he was wheeling off into the sunset, he said, “you need to write a blog of retirement advice.” Thornton is retiring this year. So is Painter. Two colleagues from DSA’s first year at the Byers building.
I retired in 2010, six years ago, had to look it up. That’s significant, isn’t it? That I no longer remember when I retired? Six years makes me experienced. I could give advice.
Nothing stays the same. The first September I felt bereft when school started, a guilty void deep in the gut. I alleviated it by taking a trip to Chicago. The feeling lessened the next year. The third it was a mere shadow flitting briefly over my mood.
Nothing changes. After retirement, you do the same things you’ve always done. You just take your time about them. I often read more than an hour before turning out the light, can you imagine?
Know thyself and thy beloved. Phil worked at home for years, was justifiably nervous over my being here during the day. I tend to interrupt his work to expound on a brilliant idea I just had or to ask for tech support or see if he wants to go get coffee. We had to make rules. Now before interrupting I ask: is this a good time? I worked in noisy, people-rich environments. Although I consider myself an introvert, I also have strong interaction needs. Phil goes for days without talking to anyone and he’s fine. I get stir crazy after seven hours. Two years ago, I started teaching one creative writing class a semester, come home happy to be sequestered again.
You gotta have a plan. That’s what I tell everyone, but my own plan was vague. I did have a list. Before I retired I wrote down all the things I wanted to do, from a month in Paris to cleaning out my files. That list was my security blanket: if I started freaking out I read it and felt reassured. Writing was on the list, of course, but in nebulous “find someone to translate” fashion.
Give yourself a break. I spent the first months puttering around—a little translating, a little essay writing, a lot of sleeping in. It was two years before I started this blog. In those two years we took five domestic trips and I was the manager of our kitchen remodel. I did transition projects: cleaned out school files, created a new workroom for myself, subbed for friends. You may not want to return to your former workplace, but for me that was always the plan. I started teaching too late to acquire sufficient retirement.
That doesn’t sound like a break? It was. Waking without an alarm. Reading the morning news at breakfast. Having a second cup of coffee. Once I settled upstairs in the back of the house, in that little room with windows on three sides, I was where I needed to be. I spent most mornings in my mini-solarium, sometimes warily feeling my way around my own writing, sometimes playing solitaire, soaking up silence. Silence! I made lunch and coffee dates with friends, engagements impossible while teaching.
Decide what you want to accomplish. Yes, my dears, you must accomplish something. Lie around on the couch or beach and you’ll be back at work or dead in two years. Remember the aforementioned list. Make one. Realize some items may be unattainable. Paris is still on my list, but I’m prepared to let it go if I must.
I started the blog in mid-2012, with the intention of writing an 800-word essay twice a month, didn’t know if I could do it. Broken writing promises litter my life like autumn leaves. But in four years, I have never missed a deadline. I prefer the Spanish word for retirement: jubilación. In my jubilation I’ve become a writer at last.